Boat Days

This post is officially dedicated to my uncle Tom, aunt Kailane, and cousins Liam and Aidan! They have most generously contributed to the Vicky-Has-Internet Fund, in addition to being longtime readers and supporters of Agent Red Squirrel. Their questions were about the lay of the land in Exmouth- I know I’ve skipped a fair bit of background in terms of this project and the area I’m living in.

First of all, I’m living in a town called Exmouth, which is on the North West Cape of Western Australia (state bird: the black swan; state flower: the red and green kangaroo paw). I’m working as part of the North West Cape Dolphin Research Project, NWCDRP for “short.” It’s a small town- about 2,200 people here year-round, and since it’s off-season for school holidays in Australia and the whale sharks have mostly moved on for this year, that’s probably a reasonable estimate for the current population. It borders the Indian ocean and the Exmouth Gulf, clearly a sea-oriented town though it appears surrounded by low striated bluffs, red sandy soil, stunted eucalyptus trees, and myriad other dusty shrubs and grasses that shelter ‘roos, emus, echidnas, and other exotic fauna (cockroaches, spiders, ants… you know, cool stuff).

Every reasonably-sized house in this town of reasonably-sized single-family houses and rentals has a boat parked out front, along with some palm trees and plumerias. The more landscaped ones have sunflowers, and maybe a little bit of lawn. But the rainy season is over here, and despite the 30-year flood that washed out levees and kangaroo corpses in town this winter (northern hemisphere’s summer) the ground is dry again. Green grass may not last long as we edge our way into spring and summer.

I’m cooking dinner tomorrow night, so hopefully I’ll have a few more photos of “normal life” here at the house. But for now, here’s what we’ve done in the past few days on the boat:

Since the weather has turned, we have been out from basically sunrise (or slightly thereafter) until sunset (or slightly thereafter). Smooth seas, light breezes, turquoise water with more than 11m of visibility straight to the bottom… life ain’t bad on the North West Cape right now. We load up the boat in the morning, rubbing sleep out of our eyes and sunscreen on our faces, and truck over to one of three boat ramps with the trailer rattling along behind us. Tantabiddi, Bundegi, and Exmouth Marina are our three points of entry, and we motor along from there to wherever our transects for the morning begin.

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We science away for a few hours- scanning quadrants of the water and horizon for vessels, whales, obviously dolphins (Tursiops aduncus or Sousa sahulensis, our study species), and anything else that catches our eye. Here’s Kaja science-ing:

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Kaja Wierucka

And then we break for a very civilized morning tea.

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Sometimes we also break for some penalty push-ups. They’re extra fun when there are swells.

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Meanwhile, marine life continues around us. We spot dolphins every few hours, which prompt rapid-fire photography and driving a boat in circles amid much cursing and sometimes ooh-ing and aah-ing (especially if there are calves present); sea snakes aren’t uncommon, nor are breaching humpbacks and calves. We saw a dugong yesterday, and a young hammerhead shark! Tim and I saw Pseudorcas, or False Killer Whales, for the first time today as they came flying by our boat on some unknown mission, spooking two 5-foot sailfish into their wake. I’ve been assured there will be no lack of photographic opportunity, and I’m excited to post more photos for you soon.

Amidst all this ocean nonsense, we make time for lunch and water breaks, but for the most part we spend our time with binoculars and clipboards, searching for the elusive fins and short blows of our dolphin buddies/nemeses. Today as the sun was setting and a mother humpback was breaching in front of the rising moon, we cruised back in to the Bundegi boat ramp. Exhausted dinner, spreadsheet entry, hosing down equipment, blogging, and now sleeping. Lots of stored up good stories for the coming days, plus a special guest appearance by an early-morning dingo and THIS ON THE DASHBOARD OF THE TRUCK:

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Yup. This is Australia. Ain’t nobody gonna forget it. Exhausted Agent Red Squirrel signing off- stay happy, readers.

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2 comments on “Boat Days

  1. Tommy says:

    Thanks for the post! I know your blog is supposed to be focused on the “science things” but I love reading and seeing pictures of the more mundane aspects of your adventures as well, especially when you are assigned to far off places. For instance, what is the grocery store in Exmouth like? What are the local pastimes? What do people do for a living there? And what is that crazy arrangement of antenna like things due north of you at the tip of the peninsula?

    • Actually I was kicking myself for not bringing my camera to the grocery store today! There was a guy wandering around shirtless in the veggie aisle, all the ingredients have different names (capsicum rather than bell pepper, polenta but no corn meal, sultanas instead of raisins) and milk comes in unrefrigerated boxes. There do seem to be ingredients for Mexican and Chinese food, which is nice (I made fried rice yesterday and today) and a lot of new and interesting candy bars. I’ll put up another post about the town of Exmouth when I get some good photos of it- it’s not easily photographed, but there are a few icons I can probably snap.

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